I’ve gained a new perspective this week. Or maybe a better way to say it is, perspective gained a new side of me.
This past Monday, while wrestling with my son, I hit my head. OK, let’s just be honest – he’s 8 and thinks “head butts” are the best thing in the world – and after I let him tackle me on the couch, he got me cranium to cranium square on in my Occipital region. What was intended to be an innocuous imitation of some fictional wrestler whose name he cannot even pronounce, ended up rattling my cage pretty good. I had an instant headache and was dizzy for a few moments – my son thrilled, all the while, that he finally beat me.
I’ve had two serious concussions in my life. The first was the result of a serious car accident in 1999, and the second a few years later, after hitting my head on a cement stepping stone when the rope of the hammock I was sleeping in snapped, dumping me onto the ground. This recent knock to the head was not nearly as serious and the impact not nearly as intense, but as so many have noted, the results of multiple concussions are cumulative and the effects of even a small bump can be challenging, especially when there’s a history of more severe events.
I don’t remember much of what happened Tuesday. The best way I can describe what I felt when I woke up is “disconnected” – as in I was there, but not really there. I took a shower, got dressed, and went to work without telling anyone what I was feeling. Since school started this past week my schedule, which is normally packed, was empty Tuesday morning. I know I was at work, I know I was trying to do paperwork, and I know I didn’t fall asleep in my chair, but beyond that, I have a limited sense of how the day went. Realizing that something was amiss, I talked to my doctor at lunch and told her what had happened and that my head wasn’t right. We agreed that my trainee (I’m currently training a Vision Therapist and she has been shadowing me for the last few weeks) would take the lead with my patients and I would shadow her for the rest of the day. I struggled to pay attention, I was bothered by the lights and the noises, and as soon as it was over I came home and fell asleep. You may remember my last blog post was about concussions and was very much an “in the moment” account, which I wrote at lunch on Tuesday and posted later that night – but I don’t remember when.
Wednesday the fog had cleared a bit. I slept close to 11 hours the night before and made sure to eat something healthy when I awoke. In our office, Wednesday morning is “Admin Time”, which is just a fancy way to say we don’t schedule patients so we can review charts and write reports. As soon as I walked in to the office, my doctor followed me into the VT room to see how I was feeling. I told her “60%”, which was about right. With my previous two concussions, one of my biggest challenges was word recall and sentence formation – as in, I knew what I wanted to say, but making the sounds come out of my mouth in the proper sequence and for the full duration was somehow confusing or stunted. Instead, the best I could muster was two to three word answers. This week was no different. Oddly, typing and writing became easier, so email and text message became the preferred mode of communication.
Thursday morning was fair, but I didn’t sleep well Wednesday night, so by Thursday afternoon I was exhausted. With the help of my trainee (I’m sure I wasn’t much help to her), my patients were all taken care of and my work duties tended to. I wrote a few emails with every last ounce of energy, and again, went home and fell asleep right away – but this time, in my clothes. Friday was a repeat of Thursday, the only difference being I worked half a day and have basically been loafing on my couch ever since. Thankfully, tomorrow is a holiday and I’ll have three and half days of rest by the time it’s over. Tonight I’m feeling 90%, and with any luck, the fog will clear completely come Tuesday morning.
It’s so often that patients with a head injury will say to me that “they look normal, and people don’t understand why their brain is troubled”. This has been my life this week. Lucky for me, I work in a place that treats people with head injuries and not only was there understanding, but there was immediate action in diagnosis and implementation of treatment protocol. Adjustments were also made so no patients were affected by my struggles. The perspective I gained, or maybe just renewed, was how hard it would be for someone in a less understanding environment to try to return to work and be productive. There is no way I could have seen patients on Tuesday or Wednesday. Lucky for me, my understudy is amazing and didn’t require my assistance, but what if she would have? What if I worked in a place where life and death decisions were the norm and I couldn’t perform? What if there were lots of flashing lights, or rhythmical beeps, or even if I were on the 25th floor of an office building? I would have fallen apart…or lost my job…or both. Guaranteed.
My inclination has always been that all experiences – good or bad – provide us an opportunity to learn and to grow. It’s truly a conscious choice to view things in this way, but it’s an approach that has served me well. I feel like this experience will help me to be more compassionate and empathetic with my patients, as it has been a stark reminder of the struggles some of them are going through every single day. I cannot imagine living my life for several weeks, or months, or even years, feeling the way I’ve felt most of this week. It may sound odd or even ironic, but all things considered, I’m happy to have had this experience. Aside from helping to keep things in perspective, I have a new appreciation and respect for the strength some of them display in just making it through…one day at a time.